Public Employee Evaluations Shielded from FOIA

   By Mary Massingal (Illinois Statehouse News) – 12/4/10 - Any chance of getting a look at the performance evaluation of any Illinois public employee bit the dust this week.   
   The Illinois Senate on Wednesday followed the House’s lead in overriding Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto to legislation that exempts public employee personnel evaluations from Freedom of Information Act requests. Quinn changed House Bill 5154 so that only local police officers and state police officers were exempt.
    Media outlets were outraged when lawmakers passed the original legislation, saying it was an infringement on the public’s right to know about state government. Melissa Hahn, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association, said the Legislature’s override is a step backward in the state’s FOIA laws.
    “We had hoped that at least one chamber would simply ignore this bill and let it die in its entirety,” Hahn said.
    Both chambers have to vote to override a governor’s veto in order to return the legislation to its original form and become law.
    A Quinn spokeswoman said the governor stands by the original intent of his changes.
    “Governor Quinn’s amendatory veto would have promoted transparency and access to critical information, as well as protect public safety and maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system,” said Annie Thompson in an e-mailed statement.
   HB 5154 grew out of a bill passed earlier this year that prohibited the evaluations of public school teachers, principals and school superintendents from FOIA requests. Proponents of open government claim the FOIA exemption gives public employees an undeserved privilege since their salaries are paid by taxpayer money.
    But Senate sponsor Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, said that although she supports government transparency, she draws the line at the employer-employee relationship.
    “I don’t see (the exemption) as a privilege,” she said. “I see it as a tool for management to be able to improve their work force and to support the accomplishments that they’re trying to make in government.”
    She also said she believes that making performance records public would lead to inadequate evaluations and inadequate job performance.
    “If the supervisor says ‘Well, I’m not sure if I can evaluate you fairly because your record will be public knowledge,’ you’re exposing that management-level person, as well as the person being evaluated,” Lightford said. “So, it pretty much takes away a system that’s been working in terms of employee-employer relationship.”
    State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, agreed and also said he doesn’t think the public is actually that interested in public employee performance evaluations.
    “If you ask the taxpayers 'Are you more interested in reading the evaluations of public employees or the public employees being fairly treated by their supervisors and doing a good job,’ I think they’d choose the latter,” he said.
    Hahn disagreed, saying her organization has heard from people across the state who say they have a right to know how teachers, state government workers and cops are performing in their jobs. “And now all of that information simply is shielded from any public view," she said.
   Story courtesy of  Illinois Statehouse News. (Originally published 12/2/10)